Make Projects Easy-As-Pie with Visuals


Ever wonder why so many project tools are designed with lists of data and text? In the early 1980s, Ron Bredehoeft created a scheduling tool for software engineers that ultimately became Microsoft Project. Since then most other project tools have followed suit with the same look and feel with pages of rows, columns and data. Today, we have more complex projects and more people joining projects, and few have the time and the patience to learn how to use these tools made for the previous era.

What if there was a better way to show your work in a tool that’s more natural, like drawing process boxes on a white board?

How PIEmatrix Approached this Problem

I gave this a lot of thought when building PIEmatrix. I wanted something that could display complex projects as swim lanes like we often sketch on a white board. Also, I didn’t want something like a spaghetti Visio diagram with boxes and lines pointing every which way.

Here’s a pie metaphor to help explain a better and simpler visual:

Imagine looking at a lemon pie from the top down. It’s a sliced up circle ready for serving. Now flip this pie onto its side so you can see its layers. The top layer is the meringue, the middle is the lemon filling, and the bottom layer is the crust. Think of this as a project pie with a top layer for project management, a middle layer for the implementation team, and the bottom layer for the quality management process. If you pull out the first slice to serve, you will have a visual way to show activities going in tandem for the project manager, implementation team, and QA team. What if you’re on the QA team? No problem. Just ignore the other two layers and chew away.

Now imagine seeing this in a software tool, like the PIEmatrix Pie process and project portfolio tool. With one click, you show only your layer. One other click drills down into a slice to show your milestones and action steps. The idea is to open up a new and better way of seeing, such as turning complex projects into a simpler model that lets team members see and consume only what’s on their plate.

Image by Kyle

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Projects and Cookies?



Many organizations try to get work done either from memory, or by reinventing the wheel. Does that happen at your company? For some people, it’s much easier to create something from scratch than to hunt down something that’s reusable. The reason is that it’s either too hard to find, or it’s out of date. This can be very stressful, especially when your projects are running at full speed. In this scenario, scaling your projects is not an option.

The true purpose of a standard is to scale while maintaining quality. Consider the cookie-cutter. You use the cookie-cutter tool in your kitchen to maintain a solid pattern. If you have the right ingredients and recipe, you can give the cutter to another person without the concern of making a bad cookie. Having a standard in place is like having a cookie-cutter at your disposal.

But you could run into another problem from fast-changing environments. What if your recipe is not as good as the neighbor’s? Do you find your kids going across the street for better cookies?

Let’s look at projects. What happens if your project requires a process change to adapt to business needs? Traditionally, it’s not easy to disseminate that change out to currently running projects. However, you may find that if you’re nimble on your feet, you can add flexibility to the cookie cutter mold. Standards should have instant flexibility to help your company constantly adapt to its evolving needs.

Imagine you could instantly leverage an improvement whenever you want. For example, at PIEmatrix, we devised a way to make a dynamic connection between the template and the active project. We quickly learned that it’s even better to allow the tweaking decision to be made by the project’s manager. This empowers the manager and the team to decide when to get the latest and greatest. The people out in the field have true control over their processes as they improve over time. I call this repeatability and scaling with flexibility.

Image by Betsy

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Is Non-Disruptive Innovation Better?

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by Gary Pisano states that the excitement about disruptive innovation has blinded us to one simple irrefutable economic fact: The vast majority of profit from innovation does not come from the initial disruption; it comes from the stream of routine, or sustaining, innovations that accumulate for years.”

Let’s explore this notion for project or process management and people engagement.

A company that goes from no project management processes to an industry guideline or method could experience an internal disruptive innovation. For example, let’s say your firm implemented the PMI PMBOK  guideline or the IIL UPMM methodology for project management, and imagine all projects going from chaos mode to a structured framework overnight. This could fundamentally transform the way projects are planned, executed, and delivered across your company. Assuming executives are committed, and assuming your employees adapt to change, the real value from your transformation will come from making your processes better and better over time. I call this sustaining micro innovative changes. This type of routine innovation comes from experience, lessons learned, and many small ideas that add up to real value. We all know the cost of project failures or projects that run over budget and deadlines. Fancy dashboards may tell you what is going wrong, but integrating sustainable, routine innovation will help chip away at going over budget, project lateness, and bad project results.

The second point is how disruptive and non-disruptive innovation affects your employees. A big bang transformation may stir up excitement for some and stress for others. However, a supported culture of reward and recognition for sustainable routine innovation can be a big morale booster. Think about an environment where your input is always encouraged, you’re constantly challenged to be creative, and you’re recognized for turning lessons learned into real change. As an enabler, consider a platform, such as a project and process management software, to help your people be more engaged with imagination, process improvement, and knowledge collaboration.

Mr. Pisano suggests you should consider an innovation strategy that includes both disruptive and routine innovation. He clearly states that the latter will produce more value over time. How can this be applied to your company? What is the cost of not having a sustainable, routine innovation culture?

Image by Steve

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Knowledge at Your Fingertips

Finger Tips

Think of all the great knowledge your organization has. You may have lots of goodies stored on the servers, in people’s e-mail folders, and in their heads. You may feel confident that your firm has standard processes, but are they instantly accessible?

There are three common problems. One is not having a good way to get this knowledge out of people’s heads and into a central standard system. The other is not having this great knowledge someplace so it’s instantly accessible at your consultant’s fingertips. And three is not being able to repeat it.

What’s needed is a smart and dynamic place for your knowledge. It needs to be easy for your teams to get instant access to the details of how to get work done well and why they are doing it. Once this is in place, then it’s a matter of setting up sessions for the subject matter experts to migrate their knowledge into the central system. The process knowledge should be stored contextually with the action steps. For example, with Pie, we provide a way to store detail knowledge inside each action step object. All the user needs to do is to hover over the step to get the a pop up of the process tips and tricks. Look for project or process management tools that provide this kind of real access and your people will be more engaged.

The next part is repeatability and scale. The solution should be able to make it easy to repeat your set of knowledge content over and over for like-projects and like-business processes. Look for a template framework for sustainability and scale.

Now think of your stakeholders, partners, and end-customer team members. Imagine that they too have instant access to know what to do next. This is powerful!

Make your accumulated knowledge repeatable so any of your team members in the world can kick off a new project with the latest and greatest know-how.

Image by Juliana


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Pick-Up Sticks or Process?



For those of you, like me, who grew up without electronic toys, do you remember the game called “Pick-Up Sticks”? For our millennial friends, it’s a game where you release a bundle of thin, 8-inch sticks onto a table. They fall and land randomly. Then each player must remove a stick without disturbing the remaining ones.

Think of this game as a list of tasks in a complex project. It’s a list without any context for how they flow together in a process to achieve a particular end result. Many tools today give you something like dropping a pile of sticks. You have no overall view of how your task can affect others in the pile. Instead, what if the tasks were more like action steps as part of a process?

A task is something that stands on its own and can be very specific to just one project. A process, as defined by Google, is “a series of action steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” In addition to this definition, I see a process as a set of steps that are generic enough to be used in other, similar projects. For example, if you are implementing Oracle ERP over and over at different clients, then most of what you do is a process.

The winner of the Pick-Up Sticks game will be the player who has learned how to drop the sticks into a predefined, organized set rather than a random jumble that looks different each time. Look for a more process-oriented approach in a project management tool or platform rather than something that provides just a straight list of tasks. Then you can start to accumulate knowledge and build repeatable standards.

Image by Laura


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Giving thanks for lessons learned

apple pie



Thanksgiving is upon us and it’s time for pies!  It’s also a time to give thanks to our health, food, friends, and family.

It could also be a great time to give thanks to our human ability to learn from our personal and business life.

On the business front, we’re often very busy with executing projects aligned with strategic initiatives. That can create lots of daily pressure, and since we’re human, mistakes are made and things fall through the cracks. Also, since we’re human, we have the capacity to learn from our good and bad experiences.

Let’s all take a moment to celebrate this wonderful learning attribute. And when we come back from our Thanksgiving holiday, how about thinking of ways to use our other wonderful ability — implementing lessons learned for a better future.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Is RMO the new PMO?


PMO (Project Management Office)

RMO (Results Management Office)

I recently found a white paper title: “PMO vs. RMO: Which is the best way to get the most business value from your IT investments“, written by Diane Murray and Al Kagan from Deloitte Consulting. Their overall premise is that traditional PMOs that focus on time and budget is not cutting it.

Diane Murray, Principal at Deloitte, says, “Everybody knows that it’s not enough to bring a big technology project in on time and on budget these days. If it doesn’t contribute to the overall business strategy and deliver results, it’s considered a failure.” Al Kagan, Deloitte Director, follows this up with the need to shift towards results. He says, “This simple shift can help remedy problems of strategic alignment in most PMOs – a Results Management Office (RMO) – a reinvention of the PMO that goes well beyond a name change.” Check out the paper and read their points on why PMOs are not enough.

I recently conducted a simple survey at the Gartner Symposium conference. I asked people to pick either speed and cost or results. Most all of them picked results. I plan to continue this survey at the upcoming PMI PMO conference in San Diego.

I found there’s already a desire by some senior directors to focus on project results. When will this desire trickle down to the front line team? When will we become better at defining metrics that focus on outcome (quality and strategy alignment) rather than focus only on the time and cost to produce that outcome?

Look me up at the PMI PMO conference. I will be found at the International Institute for Learning (IIL) booth as PIEmatrix is partnering with them. I would enjoy a conversation.


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For our customers using Google Chrome

It has recently come to our attention that users who are working in PIEmatrix using Google Chrome may encounter problems with performance and downloading files. We have isolated the problems to the Google Chrome flash plugin called PepperFlash.  At this time, we recommend that you disable the use of PepperFlash within Chrome, and instead use the flash plugin available directly from Adobe. Disabling PepperFlash should resolve download issues within PIEmatrix, and enable the PIEmatrix application to run more quickly on your machine. While we look for other possible solutions, here are instructions for disabling Pepper Flash.

  1. Open a tab in Chrome and enter chrome://plugins into the address bar at the top of the window:

    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.41.15 PM

  2. You can either find your Shockwave Flash player plugins by scrolling down the page, or you can hit Command-F (for Mac) or Ctrl-F (for PC) to bring up a search box. Search for “pepper”, and it should take you directly to your Shockwave Flash plugins. If Chrome is using Pepper Flash, it will look like this in your plugins list:
    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.44.20 PM
  3. If you have more than one plugin for Shockwave Flash, please skip to step four. If you do not have another version of Shockwave Flash Player, you can go to this website to download the latest version from Adobe:  You will need to download and install this plugin, or PIEmatrix and other applications that require Flash will stop working when you disable the Pepper Flash plugin.
  4. To disable the Pepper Flash player, click the Disable link as highlighted in the above screen shot. If you have properly disabled Pepper Flash, your plugins page will look like this:
    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.44.46 PM
  5. Once you have disabled Pepper Flash, you will need to close all Chrome tabs and windows and restart the browser to make sure the changes have taken effect. Once you have completed these steps, you should find that PIEmatrix runs a bit faster, and any download problems should be resolved.

Please keep in mind that Pepper Flash may reenable itself any time you update Google Chrome, so if you start to see problems with downloads again, you should check and make sure that Pepper Flash is still disabled.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about PIEmatrix. You can reach us via email at, via that chat feature on our website, or by phone at (802)318-4891.

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How to get people to care about your project

Why this project


Ever wonder why you work 10+ hours per day to get your large and complex project done on time, only to find it was late because other people just didn’t put their hearts into it? A project is something we’re assigned to. It has some deliverables, milestones, timelines, a budget, team members, and an end customer. Most of the time, that’s all team members know about our projects. The project charters are boring and technical. Some read it once, while many never see it. It’s no wonder we don’t understand why we do projects.

What if we made our project more personal? What if we knew the project’s clear purpose and bought into it? What if it had a personal story?

We go to the movies to get moved by the story. If it’s good, it can really touch our emotions. The same applies to products we buy from brands like Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and others that have presented a clear story behind their business. People who work at these companies tend to have more passion than employees at other companies.

Before reading further, review the definition of a brand story and why you need to tell it on Bernadette Jiwa’s page. Bernadette is a well-known blogger, book author, and brand consultant. I have her book, “The Fortune Cookie Principle”, which I highly recommend. The main message for large projects is that, rather than a project being a “commodity” (one on a list of many), you can make it into something that has it’s own emotional purpose that people will care about and buy into.

Imagine the power of our projects if our team members and stakeholders had passion or at at least a shared vision for making achieving success. If our projects have their own brands with clear value and purpose that people believe in, they will become more successful. People will perform better. They will put more heart into their work.

To get started, consider providing a narrative for your project’s description. Place this story in locations that are accessible and visible by all team members. In PIEmatrix, a good place would be the project’s description field.

  1. The Purpose. Describe the ultimate purpose for your project. Example: “This project’s output deliverable is a new system that will give our end customers a faster and more personal experience when they purchase our products.”
  2. The People. Share some background about this project, who got it started, and who’s part of it. Example: “Tanya Harris from Customer Support was instrumental in getting this initiative started. Her vision and business case was powerful and we look forward to working with her team as we define requirements. Luke French was chosen as our project manager because of his past experience with CRM systems. He’s excited to be working with the project team. Ask him about his favorite hobby and I’m sure you will be surprised.”
  3. The Sharing. Explain how the team can provide feedback to make the project’s process content even better. Include all of your contact information and encouragement for input. Also, encourage everyone to collaborate and share knowledge.

Next is to spread this information every where you can during the project. Revisit the purpose in every staff meeting. Show how it is relevant  and consistent to what you are doing this week. Celebrate how the team members and stakeholders have contributed to the purpose. Explain how the process just got a tad better and who stepped forward with innovative ideas.

Don’t forget to not only tell the story, but also work on “storydoing” as described by Ty Montague in his recent HBR blog post.

Good project stories get us involved. They touch us personally. We become part of the project brand. We put our heart into it.

I would love to hear about your own story about your project, how you have shared its purpose, and what impact the team members made in making it more successful.


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How would Steve Jobs have done a tool selection?

Have you ever conducted a vendor selection and given the winning prize to the vendor that had the most requirement features checked? And how about finding a year later that that the tool is not being used as expected? Did you not worry since you were able to show management that you did the right thing since you can demonstrate that the selected vendor tool does all of things in the features requirement list? No heads roll. No problem.

Well, we really can’t hide that problem for too long. This is a common story since many of us tend to get stuck with the features war syndrome. That is, go with the vendor that spent the most money building the most features. If all the features were dead on with our real purpose and objectives, then maybe we would be using the tool today and all would be happy. But, what if we find that our feature needs were a partial lie?

I propose that we focus  on the truth — the real purpose of our business projects and the pains we want to diminish. Let’s have a little fun and think about how Steve Jobs, one of my top heroes of my life, would handle this.

I would like to believe that he would have pulled together the right talented people that shared his vision and passion. Then he would have supported his people with the right enabling technology.

What would Steve say if I had asked him what he wanted as a list of requirements for a project and portfolio management (PPM) tool? I don’t think he would have sat down and listed 107 features that the tool must have. I believe he would have have jotted down on a napkin his purpose and past pains, handed it to me, and then say go out and find a solution that solves these problems. Many of us tend to start with the opposite, which is identify a long laundry list of features. In fact, many of us would take that list and then pass it on to others to see what else they would add.

Let’s take a look at how Steve would have kicked this off.


Steve Jobs’ Napkin.


The following is my guess on what the napkin would have contained. (In reality, Steve would have probably said to not bother him with this, but I like to imagine the following story).

Purpose: Continue innovating with great design and capture new markets with products that can change people’s lives.


  • Projects are not always aligned with or supporting our purpose described above.
  • Projects are not always effective, meaning the project’s end customers are not always happy with the end results.
  • Projects are not always efficient, meaning they are late and cost too much, resulting again with unhappy customers.
  • They have too many issues and risks. Shall I repeat — unhappy customers?
  • We haven’t had the real-time transparency to make smart decisions fast.
  • Our way of doing projects are not innovative. We don’t continuously improve.
  • People are not good at communicating.
  • People don’t always know how to do the work the right way the first time.
  • It’s all too complex. There’s got to be a simple and elegant design to help our project people have fun.

You may agree with me that most PPM RFP features list wouldn’t even cover half of the above. Or if it would, you really wouldn’t know it. You may get lucky.


Mapping Steve’s Napkin.


The next step in our story is to take Steve’s napkin notes and move them to the next level. Let’s choose the following objective from the napkin and add four objectives:

Projects are not always efficient, meaning they are late and cost too much, resulting again with unhappy customers.

  • Consistently have a set of steps and direction that drive better requirements gathering
  • Tips on how to better understand end customer’s objectives
  • More transparent communications between the project team and the end customer
  • Better understanding of quality expectations and balancing it with speed to market

How can a PPM tool help? Here are a few examples taking it down to the next level:

  • Consistently have a set of steps and direction that drive better requirements gathering
    • Explain how your tool can contain a set standard or best practice action steps to be used on all like projects. Describe how these steps are created and then reused over and over?
    • Explain how they can contain the right knowledge to give people guidance and good practices.
    • Can your tool allow people to work together while designing these new process steps?
    • Show how fast project team members can get to this information.
    • Show how easy it is for the standard to get updated with lessons learned
  • Tips on how to better understand end customer’s objectives
    • (same requirements as above, so we have this one covered)
  • More transparent communications between the project team and the end customer
    • Describe how your tool can assign different team members, stakeholders, and end-users to the project activities
    • How fast is it to assign people
    • End customers will not be trained in the entire PPM system, so explain how intuitive for them to quickly figure out their own assigned tasks
    • Does your tool have a messaging feature so team members, stakeholders, and end users communicate with each other from within the project
    • Explain how fast and intuitive it is for people to use the messaging features
    • Do the messaging features tie in with email notifications
  • Etc.

Help Vendors See the Bigger Picture.


A great way to prepare for a smart tool selection is to provide the right information to the vendors. The more they are informed, the better they can show if they will help you succeed. Don’t just send them the lower level requirements items, but also include why you are asking these requirements. What may surprise you in a good way is some vendors may come back with a different spin on how to solve the higher level purpose and objectives. This different approach may be better than your initial thoughts. Most vendors know how their end customers use their tools to solve similar needs.

Keep in mind that there are other factors to consider besides the vendor features. For example, people, process, and culture impacts. Also executive commitment and support for fanatical end-user training. For example, if an objective is to get the most out of the new solution, then ask the vendor how they will provide the best deployment process to ensure adoption success rather than asking them how fast they can get the people trained.

Do you think Steve Jobs would have wanted to spend $200K on a new tool because of the tool’s vast feature set, or do you think he would have preferred to spend that money to provide people a way to better innovate with great design and capture new markets?

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